Bipolar Disorder Symptoms & Diagnosis

Separating your identity from your symptoms can be confusing.

Disbelief and acceptance: accepting a bipolar disorder diagnosis

No one likes to be defined by an illness. Because the symptoms of bipolar disorder are expressed as moods, feelings, and actions, deciding what is the illness and what is your “personality” can be confusing. That can sometimes make it hard to accept a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

There are specific criteria for diagnosing bipolar disorder, including the presence of at least one manic or hypomanic episode, but diagnosis can be challenging. Since the symptoms of bipolar depression are similar to those of other types of depression, it can take years for some people with bipolar disorder to get an accurate diagnosis. That’s why it’s important to have a good working relationship with your doctor. Being prepared for visits with questions for your doctor  (PDF) may help.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, know that you’re not alone—as many as 8 million American adults may be affected by this illness. Bipolar I disorder is approximately as common among men and women, while bipolar II disorder may be more common in women than in men. The average age of onset of bipolar disorder is when people are in their 20s, although it can begin earlier or later.